Santa Maria Bay is a well protected anchorage just outside the more famous Magdalena Bay. A small fishing camp lines the estuary, surfers hike to the point at its entrance to catch some waves, and sports fishermen anchor overnight for some rest, but otherwise there isn’t much sign of human activity here.
Braving a wavy beach landing, we were pleasantly surprised to find a large, shallow and warm intertidal zone where Rowan could wade around in, surrounded by tiny baby fish. Up by the estuary, fiddler crabs scuttled around in the thousands, and herons scouted the skies, looking for a bite to eat. Combing the beach for shells, we found a nice variety, indicating that a diverse population of shellfish was present here.
The next day, boats started coming into the anchorage, first one by one, then in a steady stream until the horizon was filled with cruising boats, cheerfully flying flags and offloading kayaks, paddle boards and floats, the Baja Ha Ha had arrived! We had gotten so used to being surrounded by boats in the San Francisco Bay that either languished in marinas and were only sailed once a year, or else were used solely as live aboard homes and were basically floating storage sheds, that it felt good to see hundreds of boats around us, every one utilized to their full potential and being enjoyed by friends and family members spending quality time with each other. Dinghies zipped around, with crew members visiting each other on their respective boats. Adults sat in cockpits enjoying drinks while children cannonballed into the turquoise water. In the morning, we tuned into the cruisers’ net on the VHF and got to know the names of all of the boats in the regatta during their morning check in. People stopped by to say hi, some of them had met us before coming down the California coast. Hearing of other boats that had system breakdowns along their passage, Travis offered mechanic services as a gesture of neighborliness. Returning from one such boat, he brought gifts of home baked pastrami sourdough bread, freshly caught tuna and a beach ball for Rowan. Although we were not part of the regatta, we still felt like part of the celebration. As night fell, anchor lights started turning on, creating a low constellation of stars, reflecting the Milky Way above us. Dinghies returning to their boats created phosphorescent trails in their wake and the smell of dinners being prepared wafted all around.
After having a rest day, the regatta was to have their beach party on the bluff overlooking the estuary. Local fishermen ferried cruisers to shore for tips, so that we did not have to worry about negotiating the beach surf when it picked up in the evening. One year, the surf got so high that hundreds of Baja Ha Ha partiers were stranded overnight at the fish camp, and had to sleep on the hut floors. Crashing their party, we blended in among the other cruisers who were delighted that we could join them. The regatta organizers had arranged for a band from La Paz to come and play some live music, and the fishermen’s families had prepared food and drinks for sale. It was bizarre to hear a sound system blaring and see Americans dancing against a Mexican desert backdrop.
With the sun setting, we got Monsoon ready for her next passage to Cabo San Lucas. The regatta was scheduled to stop there next, and we were eager to follow them and enjoy the spirit of camaraderie among sailors like ourselves.